Jeff Brandes Archives - Page 2 of 33 - Florida Politics

Jeff Brandes files computer coding as foreign language bill

Florida lawmakers could once again consider whether computer coding classes should be counted as a foreign language credit.

Sen. Jeff Brandes filed legislation Monday to allow Florida high schools to offer computer coding classes that “along with the earning of a related industry certification satisfies two credits of sequential foreign language instruction.”

Senate Bill 104 also requires the state college and university system to recognize the credits as foreign language credits.

“Software development and coding is one of the largest skill gaps we have in Florida, said Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican. “We believe there is now, and will continue to be, an incredible demand for coders. My goal is to ensure that Florida students have the skills employers value.

When it comes to computer coding, Brandes is picking up where former Sen. Jeremy Ring left off. Ring, a Margate Democrat and former Yahoo executive, filed a bill during the 2016 legislative session that would have allowed computer coding courses to satisfy two credits in sequential foreign language instruction beginning in 2018-19 school year.

Brandes was listed as a co-introducer on the 2016 bill.

The Senate overwhelmingly supported the bill, voting 35-5 to approve it. But the bill died when the Florida House decided not to take up the issue.

According to the Miami Herald, critics said they were worried the bill would place additional burdens on schools that are already struggling with sufficient technology resources. Sen. Anitere Flores, the current Senate President pro tempore, and Sen. Jeff Clemens were among the lawmakers who voted against the bill.

Under Brandes’ measure, the schools may begin offering the courses beginning in the 2019-20 school year. According to the bill, “high schools may, but will not be required to,” provide students the opportunity to take the course.

The 2017 measure also requires students and parents to sign a statement acknowledging and accepting that “a computer coding course taken as a foreign language may not meet out-of-state college and university foreign language requirements.”

It also allows the Florida Virtual School to offer computer coding courses, and says districts that don’t offer courses “may provide students with access to the courses through the Florida virtual school or through other means.”

As of Monday afternoon, no House companion to Brandes’ 2017 measure had been filed.

Jeff Brandes to file flood mitigation bill

State Sen. Jeff Brandes says he will file legislation for the 2017 Legislative Session to fund flood mitigation in affected communities.

The idea is to lower the cost of flood insurance by decreasing flood severity in areas covered by the National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) Community Rating System.

The legislation will create a matching grant program, in part through the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund, for “local projects (that) reduce flood risks and acquire conservation land for the purpose of mitigating flood risk,” Brandes’ office said in a statement.

Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, backed a bill last year (SB 1094) that became law that “require(s) local governments to include development and redevelopment principles, strategies, and engineering solutions that reduce flood risks and losses within coastal areas.”

The matching grants, to be administered by the Division of Emergency Management, would not exceed $50 million a year for “technical and financial assistance to local governments implementing flood risk reduction policies and projects.”

His bill also would authorize the Florida Communities Trust to “undertake, coordinate, or fund flood mitigation projects and to acquire and dispose of real and personal property or specified interest when necessary or appropriate to reduce flood hazards.”

Pinellas County residents and others living along Florida’s coasts have long sought affordable flood insurance.

In 2014, Brandes told the Tampa Tribune some homeowners faced insurance premiums so costly, “it would be the equivalent of paying off their home every 5-7 years, even though they haven’t had a flood in 40 years.”

 

Pinellas Legislative Delegation to consider changes to construction licensing board

Responding to a request from Charlie Justice, the Pinellas Legislative Delegation will consider changing the way members of the Construction Licensing Board are chosen.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, the delegation chair, called on state Rep. Larry Ahern to come up with a plan by the delegation’s Jan. 31 meeting. State Sen. Jeff Brandes said he wanted Ahern to consider dissolving the board so it would come under control of the Pinellas County Commission.

The licensing board, created in 1973, regulates some construction and home improvement contractors practicing in Pinellas County. It also provides countywide certification and registration of contractors.

It has come under fire in recent weeks because of the way the board members are chosen. Certain organizations and others, named in the statute, suggest members and the chair — currently Justice — of the Pinellas County Commission is responsible for appointing them.

Justice explained the problems in a Nov. 16 letter to Latvala and the delegation:

“When the request to appoint various positions of the PCCLB came before me this fall, I noticed some discrepancies as to the number of appointees provided by the various appointing organizations … In addition, some of the appointing organizations no longer exist or have been adopted under the umbrella of another, similar organization.”

Justice concluded, “I would ask that the Pinellas Legislative Delegation review the laws that pertain to the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board and consider amending them to reflect the makeup of the appointing organizations as well as the process by which the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners chair would go about appointing/reappointing board members to the PCCLB.”

Jeff Brandes files Amendment 4 implementing bill

Sen. Jeff Brandes has filed legislation to implement a constitutional amendment to give tax breaks to companies that buy and install solar devices and equipment.

The St. Petersburg Republican filed Senate Bill 90, the Amendment 4 implementing bill Thursday.

“The voters of Florida spoke loud and clear that they expect the sunshine state to make the expansion of solar and renewable energy a priority,” said Brandes in a statement Thursday. “I have been committed to diversifying our energy portfolio, and I am excited about the opportunity to bring further investment in solar and renewable energy production. This legislation has broad, bipartisan support and I look forward to an early passage of this important bill in the 2017 Session.”

The amendment removed the state’s tangible personal property tax, which taxes solar equipment installed. It also authorizes the Legislature to prohibit the devices from being considered when assessing the value of the property for tax purposes. Removing those tax barriers means more large scale commercial property owners might begin installing solar panels or other renewable energy devices.

The ballot initiative passed with 73 percent support in August. While supporters were criticized for the decision to put it on the primary ballot, Brandes said recently he thinks the decision was “absolutely the right one.”

A House companion bill has not yet been filed. Brandes said last week he hopes House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, who supported the effort to get the amendment on the ballot in 2016, will sponsor the House implementing bill.

Jack Latvala, Jeff Brandes will help control the purse strings in Tallahassee next year

When the dust cleared in Tallahassee on Tuesday, one thing was clear: Pinellas was on top when it comes to the state’s funds.

Republican Sens. Jack Latvala and Jeff Brandes, who represent parts of Pinellas, landed some plum appointments. Latvala will be the chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and alt. chair of the Joint Legislative Budget Commission. Brandes will have a seat on the Appropriations Committee and be the chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development.

The news was welcomed by local elected officials who expect to ask Tallahassee for money in 2017.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s office issued a statement, saying, “Their appointments are great news for the city of St. Petersburg, and the Tampa Bay Region.”

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, who will chair the commission in 2017, agreed, saying, “I’d like to think it would be very good for Pinellas County.”

Long said the county has just begun work on its legislative package for the coming year.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority has also begun work on its legislative package. St. Petersburg council member Darden Rice, the PSTA chair, said two projects high on the agenda are rapid transit from the Tampa airport to Clearwater and Clearwater Beach and a bus lane on the Clearwater causeway.

Both Latvala and Brandes are aware of the need for the projects, she said. And Brandes, in particular, has already been supportive of innovative PSTA programs that involve partnerships with companies like Uber and Lyft.

The PSTA, Rice said, “is very fortunate to have two such strong senators. I think this will be very helpful.”

That help, she said, can extend to other issues. One such is the sewer and infrastructure problems facing Pinellas. Although St. Petersburg has taken the brunt of criticism after dumping thousands of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage in the bay during two storms this year, the problem with infrastructure is countywide. Latvala has called two delegation meetings for fact finding.

“I think they had a very clear picture of St. Petersburg’s struggles,” Rice said. “We need help from the state to fix our fragile infrastructure.”

Rice said she’s not talking only about St. Petersburg’s infrastructure. It’s the entire county, she said. That’s another place that the senator’s appreciation for regional solutions will be helpful.

Rice noted that Latvala is known for fighting for what he believes in. That’s good for the county.

“He’s a bruiser,” Rice said. “He’s not afraid to go in and fight for what’s right.”

At Tampa summit, officials boast about how Florida is ahead of the nation when it comes to self-driving cars

At the fourth annual Florida Automated Vehicle Summit in Tampa, government officials boasted about how far ahead of the game the state is compared to the rest of the nation in being prepared for the brave new world of autonomous vehicles. And they pledged not to  get in the way of the industry doing whatever they need to succeed with this quickly emerging technology.

“Help us help you and where you’re trying to go,” said Tom Byron, the assistant secretary for Intermodal Systems Development with the Florida Dept. of Transportation. “That’s what I’m asking. That’s it.”

There are currently 33 different companies involved in the development of advanced driver assistance systems and self-driving vehicles, including Tesla, Apple, Ford, Microsoft and Honda.

Byron boasted that unlike other states, the Florida Dept. of Transportation has a “healthy budget,” and added that Florida most importantly has the political leadership that is also unlike any other place in the nation in terms of supporting this new mode of transportation. “You’ve got proprietary data, trade secrets, we don’t want any of that stuff, ” Byron said reassuringly. “What we want to do is get input on what we can do.”

Leading this movement in Florida has been Republican state Senator Jeff Brandes, who told the audience that he was inspired to sponsor an autonomous vehicle bill in his very first year in the Legislature in 2011, after listening to a “Ted Talk” while driving up to Tallahassee from the Tampa Bay area.

The technology has changed, and so has the thrust of Brandes’ legislation in this area. Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature unanimously backed HB 7027, Brandes bill that made Florida the first state in the nation to legalize fully autonomous vehicles on public roads without a driver behind the wheel. “That’s a game changer,” Brandes said, claiming that the law makes every 30-year plan created by various state and local agencies “wrong.”

“Not a little bit wrong, but a lot wrong,” he added. “This technology is just like 100 years ago when we moved from the horse and the buggy to the Model T.”

Brandes said that not are vehicles now becoming autonomous, but simultaneously they’re becoming more electric, saying that the industry has evolved to the point where it has gone from a car with 2,000 moving parts now to one that will soon just 20 moving parts. He said that upcoming electric vehicles now in production will be able to drive 200 miles on a single charge, and cost less than $25,000 by 2020 or 2022.

The St. Petersburg Republican said that he meets with hundreds of groups regarding specific issues or causes, and he says he asks all of them what their vision is, and who’s their champion. He said he is the champion of the autonomous vehicle movement in Florida. “My vision is that we continue to tread new ground, and we continue to work to make bold decisions,” he declared.

The conference started up on Tuesday with a short address by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who said that the “intellectual capital” want choices when it comes to transportation, choices that don’t include building more roads. “It’s options,” he said, listing autonomous vehicles, Uber,  Lyft, HOV lanes and/or rail lines as essential choices.

“We need options, and we need to be thinking about what the future will be looking like, and what transportation is going to look like, not just next year, but 20 years from now,” the mayor said, adding that “the success of our cities is contingent on your willingness to think outside of that traditional box.”

And Buckhorn had a message for President-elect Donald Trump regarding his pronouncements that he supports a major infrastructure project.

“We’re the third largest state in the country, and we need to start acting like it,” Buckhorn said. “We need to start investing like it. I hope that the President-elect lives up to his campaign promises and starts to invest in infrastructure,” adding that, “we need to believe in a future that doesn’t look like today.”

However, some initial proponents of such a major plan have turned cold on it. That’s because Trump is calling for the government to avoid direct spending and borrowing by instead subsidizing private developers with massive tax credits for building roads, bridges and other projects. The developers would own the infrastructure and collect resulting cash flows from tolls or fees. The liberal Economic Policy Institute argues the plan is unlikely to lead to much new investment because it’s driven more by ideology — that private enterprise always trumps direct public investments in infrastructure — than by rational policy.

Giving the keynote address was urban planner and forecaster Dr. Anthony Townsend from the company, Bits and Atoms. FloridaPolitics will have a story about his speech later this week.

Repealing PIP, implementing Amendment 4 top priorities for Jeff Brandes in 2017

Sen. Jeff Brandes will once again file legislation to repeal the state’s no-fault auto insurance requirement, saying it’s time for Florida to move away from the troubled system.

The St. Petersburg Republican said repealing the state’s Personal Injury Protection (PIP) system will be one of his top priorities during the 2017 legislative session. The decision to file the bill comes just a few months after a study revealed Floridians could save an average $81 a car if the state drops the system.

“We believe that PIP is not the right product for Floridians going forward,” said Brandes.

Brandes and Rep. Bill Hager filed legislation in 2016 to repeal the law, which requires drivers to buy $10,000 PIP coverage. The proposal, which would have ended the requirement by 2019, did not receive a hearing during the 2016 legislative session.

Brandes is hoping 2017 is different, and thinks a recent analysis that showed consumers could see a savings if the program is repealed will help his cause.

Florida is one of ten states that has personal injury protection auto insurance, according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. The program was intended to provide injured drivers up to $10,000 in medical coverage in lieu of establishing fault, but in recent years the number of PIP claims have increased.

In fact, the National Insurance Crime Bureau reported Florida led the nation in PIP Questionable Claim referrals in 2009. And not only was it the highest in the nation, a National Insurance Crime Bureau report found Florida had twice as many claims as the next highest state, New York.

In 2012, state lawmakers approved legislation aimed at curbing fraudulent claims. A recent analysis for the OIR showed the 2012 reforms reduced fraud and abuse, but also suggested the state could save Floridians $1 billion a year if they get rid of the system entirely. The Palm Beach Post reported, however, those savings would only apply if lawmakers get rid of PIP without putting new requirements to offset the impact in place.

And with a host of insurance issues expected to be on the table this year, Brandes said he understands repealing PIP could be a tough sell. Still, he’s hoping the potential savings will help move the issue along.

Repealing PIP might be a heavy lift, but Brandes is hopeful the implementation of Amendment 4, which gives tax breaks to companies that buy and install solar devices and equipment.

The ballot initiative, which was on the Aug. 30 ballot, passed with 73 percent support. While backers of amendment were criticized for putting it on the primary ballot, Brandes said he thinks the decision to keep it separate from the utility-backed solar amendment was “absolutely the right one.”

Amendment 1, the utility-backed solar amendment, received 51 percent support in November, just short of the 60 percent needed to become law.

Brandes said the passage of Amendment 4 shows there is “clear mandate to implement” the amendment as passed. He plans to roll out a bill implementing the amendment in the coming days, and said he is hopeful House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, who supported the bill to get the amendment on the ballot in 2016, will sponsor the implementing bill in the House.

The amendment removes the state’s tangible personal property tax, which taxes solar equipment installed. It also authorizes the Legislature to prohibit the devices from being considered when assessing the value of the property for tax purposes.

Removing those tax barriers means more large, scale commercial property owners could begin installing solar panels or other renewable energy devices. And that, Brandes said, could give consumers more access to solar.

Brandes said he believes the implementing bill “should go through very smoothly.” That’s because it will be easy to show legislators that their community supported the amendment, even down to the precinct level.

In addition to repealing PIP and implementing Amendment 4, Brandes said he will once again take a look at local pension reform.

“We don’t file easy legislation … we file things to do with real problems,” he said. “We think pension obligations are a huge untold story in politics, that they are taking down states and nations.”

Editors note: This story has been updated.

Final round-up of the money chase in Tampa Bay’s legislative races

On Friday, candidates released their final campaign finance reports before Election Day, and reports out of Senate District 18 show Tampa Republican Rep. Dana Young pressing her fundraising advantage in the race with $1.2 million in spending.

Young spent more than $500,000 of campaign’s war chest in between Oct. 22 and Nov. 3, most of it heading to a media buy with Mentzer Media Services.

The exiting House Majority Leader also raised $67,000 for her SD 18 campaign, leaving her with about $113,000 on hand in her campaign account heading into the final few days of the election cycle.

Her political committee, “Friends of Dana Young,” spent even more money, with $700,000 heading to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee chaired by incoming Senate President Joe Negron. Young’s PAC had about $200,000 on hand Nov. 3.

Young is running against Democratic attorney Bob Buesing and a pair of NPA candidates for the Tampa-based seat, but none of her opponents have come close to competing in the money race.

Despite raising another $76,000 in contributions and putting another $35,000 of his own money into the race during the two-week reporting period, Buesing’s total fundraising is less than a quarter of what Young has been able to pull in through her campaign and committee accounts.

Buesing’s $111,000 performance was coupled with $119,000 in spending, mainly on media buys through Chicago-based AL Media. His campaign had about $53,000 in the bank heading into the final five days.

Joe Redner, the better funded of SD 18’s two NPA candidates, didn’t post any contributions during the period, though he did spend $35,000 on media. Fellow NPA candidate Sheldon Upthegrove also laid an egg in his report and showed a $100 account balance Nov. 3.

The other five Senate seats covering Hillsborough or Pinellas counties are pretty much decided, with Sens. Tom Lee, Bill Galvano and Jeff Brandes all winning re-election unopposed, and Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala only facing a write-in candidate.

The SD 19 race between Democratic Rep. Darryl Rouson and Republican John “Mr. Manners” Houman is also looking like a runaway.

Rouson raised another $41,000 during the reporting period and spent $23,000, leaving him with about $85,000 in the bank for the final stretch. Houman, best known for his nontraditional campaign website, added $0 during the period and has about $60 in the bank.

In the House, Republican Reps. Jake Raburn, Janet Cruz, and Jamie Grant have secured victory, and Sean Shaw is already on the list for the freshman class. Also expect to see Chris Latvala, Chris Sprowls, and Larry Ahern hang on to their seats with little fanfare.

In HD 63, Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison brought in about $46,000 and was outraised by Democrat Lisa Monelione, who added $55,500 to her campaign coffers.

Harrison still has the cash on hand lead with about $38,000 in the bank compared to about $10,000 for Montelione, though a money lead may not be enough to keep him in the swing seat come Tuesday.

South Pasadena Republican Rep. Kathleen Peters is also facing a decently funded Democrat, Jennifer Webb, though she out-raised her 3-to-1 in her new report.

Peters added about $61,500 and spent about $100,500, mainly on a TV buy, leaving her with about $113,000 in the bank. Webb took in another $21,000 and spent about $19,000, leaving her with about $13,000 on hand.

Republican HD 59 Rep. Ross Spano also outraised his opponent, Democratic attorney Rena Frazier, with $26,600 in contributions compared to her $13,500 haul. Both candidates spent nearly $60,000 during the reporting period, and Nov. 3 Spano had about $66,000 in the bank compared to $31,000 for Frazier.

 In HD 60, Republican Jackie Toledo crossed the $300,000 mark in total fundraising after bringing in another $38,000. Toledo, who is running to replace Young, spent $55,600 and had about $73,000 in the bank Nov. 3.

Her opponent, Democrat David Singer, raised about $8,800 and spent $8,300 leaving him with just $5,000 in the bank for the final stretch. At $161,00, his total fundraising is about half of Toledo’s.

Dana Young calls for FDLE investigation into Hillsborough County PTC

In the aftermath of published reports about questionable decisions made by Hillsborough County Public Transportation Executive Director Kyle Cockream over the past year, Tampa state Rep. Dana Young is calling for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to conduct an investigation into the agency.

“When the line is blurred between the regulator and the entities they regulate, the public cannot rely on impartiality in the government,” wrote Young in her letter to the FDLE. “The disturbing revelations of the relationship between the PTC, Mr. Cockream, and members of the taxi industry in Hillsborough County merit a full review to determine if ethical or legal boundaries have been violated.”

Among the revelations that came to light last week through a release of a large number of emails, was that Cockream coordinated with local taxicab and limousine firms to fine rideshare drivers. Members of those companies acted as would-be passengers and lured Uber and Lyft drivers to pick them up before PTC agents cited them. Officially, Uber and Lyft drivers have been operating out of compliance with the PTC since they began operating in the spring of 2014.

Cockream also traveled twice to appear before the Palm Beach County Commission in the past year when that government body discussed ridesharing. He appeared at the same time in both meetings with representatives from the taxicab and limousine industry. The PTC’s mission is to regulate taxicab, limousine, and now ridesharing operations in an even, fair fashion.

“The PTC has a sordid history marred by scandals of former board members and conflicts of interest with previous senior agency personnel,” Young said in her letter. “The history of recurrent and pervasive improprieties by the PTC has resulted in multiple attempts by the Florida Legislature to repeal the regulatory body.”

The PTC was marred by a tawdry reputation for years long before Uber and Lyft ever came to Tampa. A former PTC board chairman — Kevin White — spent time in federal prison after being convicted in 2011 of accepting at least $6,000 in bribes from an undercover FBI agent posing as a businessman seeking to curry favor with him in his official role. Incidents like that led some local leaders like Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn to call for the agency to be dissolved. Those calls have been echoed by Tampa Bay area state legislators like Jeff Brandes and Jamie Grant in recent years, who have proposed bills to do that, though such efforts have come up short.

Young, a South Tampa Republican, is now running for the state Senate 18 district race against Democrat Bob Buesing and independent candidates Joe Redner and Sheldon Upthegrove.

Through a spokesman, Cockream is offering no comment.

medical marijuana

Some Florida Republicans AWOL on talking about Amendment 2

Florida Republican leaders have been conspicuously quiet about where they stand on Amendment 2, the ballot initiative that would legalize medical marijuana.

“I think a lot of people are being quiet about it because they assume it’s going to pass and they don’t want to be on the wrong side,” incoming Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Latvala said last week about the relative scarcity of GOP leaders opposed to the measure.

After speaking with Latvala, FloridaPolitics.com reached out last week to four leading Republicans in Florida to determine where they stand on the issue, but five days later, only incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran responded to our entreaty.

“In 2014, the Florida House passed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act that eventually became law,” Corcoran emailed Florida Politics. “The law created a strict regime for dispensing non-smoked low-THC cannabis to patients who had run out of traditional pain management options. I believe that Amendment 2 is both unnecessary and is merely a steppingstone in the full legalization playbook. The law in place strikes a balance between compassion and control and poses no danger to our kids and grandkids.”

In addition to Corcoran, this reporter also reached out to incoming Senate President Joe Negron, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

This is the second consecutive statewide election with the issue of medical marijuana on the ballot.

In 2014, the measure received over 57 percent support at the polls, short of the 60 percent required for a citizen’s led initiative to pass. Nearly every respected poll published this year shows the measure getting over the required threshold, though the polls were also favorable at this time two years ago.

Latvala took a beating on his Facebook page when he announced his opposition in September, but the Clearwater Republican said it actually demonstrated his political courage.

“To get involved in something’s that winning over 70 percent of the vote is not an easy thing to do,” he said. “It takes a little bit of courage to get involved in an issue where it looks like you’re losing.”

Many, if not most, Republicans opposed the measure in 2014, but some have come on board this year, including Tampa Bay area Republicans Jeff Brandes and Dana Young.

While some lawmakers like Corcoran says the law previously passed by the Legislature serves its purpose, critics note it also limits the growing and distribution of marijuana to just six nursery owners in the state.

“The Legislature screwed up the opportunity in the medical marijuana law,” says Brandes. “What you’ve seen them do is create a situation where only a handful of families can get wealthy.”

The measure also is getting more buy-in from the editorial boards of some of the state’s biggest newspapers. In the past two days, three newspapers — the Florida Times-Union, the News Herald of Panama City, and the Ft. Myers News-Press — have all urged their readers to vote “yes” on the proposal. All three papers’ editorial boards had opposed Amendment 2 in 2014.

The Orlando Sentinel came out with an editorial opposing the measure, saying: “It’s the right policy, but the constitution is the wrong place to do it.”

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